2022 Grants Challenge

Educational Advocacy for Systems-Impacted Youth

CASA/LA's Educational Advocacy Program serves children ages 6-21 in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems who have acute educational issues. We match these young people one-to-one with highly trained and dedicated volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), who serve as educational rights holders, gather information (directly from children, their caregivers, and professionals) to pinpoint education barriers, make informed decisions on the child's behalf, and connect children to resources that support their individual needs.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Support for Foster and Systems-Impacted Youth

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

The 30,000+ children forced to navigate the child welfare and juvenile justice systems in LA County are assigned to overworked county professionals who are unable to provide them with the individualized support they need to thrive in school and reach graduation. Nationwide, only 53% of students in foster care will finish high school on time and only 3% will finish college. According to a 2018 study, on a given night in LA, over 3,000 young adults experience homelessness, 31% of whom report previous or current involvement in child welfare and 62% report involvement in the justice system. In CA prisons, 28% of inmates have been in foster care. This is unacceptable. Many children in the system experience educational challenges and most are struggling with the emotional ramifications of a disrupted home environment. The pandemic has exacerbated these issues. CASA youth had an especially difficult time with virtual learning and now must work harder than their peers not in care to catch up.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

A grant from LA2050 will allow us to train and organize more CASA volunteers to serve more systems-impacted youth with vital educational advocacy. We match CASAs one-to-one with youth who have been identified by the courts as having acute educational issues and are at risk of falling behind or dropping out of school. CASAs attend Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, gather educational records, and communicate directly with school staff to ensure youth have all the supports they need to succeed. CASAs monitor credits and attendance and link youth to appropriate classes, credit recovery and tutoring programs. CASAs can also advocate for a child to move to a different school (such as a smaller school with smaller classes) that support their individual needs, often leading to better academic performance and ability to connect with classmates and teachers. 41% of CASAs hold educational rights for the children they serve, allowing them to make decisions about school placement, advocate for IEPs, and link children and caregivers to external services. CASAs also connect youth to non-punitive and prosocial activities that promote healing. For older youth, including Expectant and Parenting Youth (EPY), CASAs ensure they have what they need to achieve self sufficiency, including supporting them in achieving post-secondary and occupational goals. In the case of EPY, CASAs also make sure these young parents have what they need to keep their own babies out of foster care.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

All of our programs aim to help systems-involved young people exit the child welfare and justice systems as soon as possible, avoid re-entry or recidivism, heal and cope with their trauma, safely return to their communities, and have long-term supports in place for their futures. Youth in foster care in LA County who are matched with CASAs are linked to more supportive services while in the system, perform better in school, are more likely to be placed in a stable home and are less likely to re-enter care. LA County foster care currently operates as a pipeline into homelessness, poverty and the prison system and will continue to do so until fundamental changes are made to how we care for our community's most vulnerable kids. We believe that a Los Angeles in which every young person in child welfare has an advocate and the opportunity to thrive in education and all areas of life is a safer, richer, more successful LA for all. Every day our team works hard to make this LA a reality.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

CASA/LA utilizes an internal data monitoring system called Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) to track individual case progress and measure overall program outcomes. In FY2021, CASA/LA served 1,360 children (5% increase from FY2020), recruited 324 new CASAs (17% increase) and organized 1,119 total CASAs (6% increase). During the same period, CASA/LA delivered the following advocacy outcomes for CASA youth whose cases closed (370): - 67% of youth in nonpermanent placement at assessment were in permanent placement at case closure - 62% had improved educational outcomes - 68% had improved mental health outcomes During the pandemic, CASAs stepped in to combat the educational obstacles that arose during homeschooling. This included helping youth access technology and internet so that they could participate virtually in school and extracurriculars; helping caregivers define their own roles in the child’s virtual learning; connecting youth directly to high quality academic services; and much more.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 850

Indirect Impact: 850

Describe the specific role of the partner organization(s) in the project, program, or initiative.

Though we are not submitting a collaborative proposal, CASA/LA works with many community and government partners to deliver services, promote the welfare of children in dependency care, identify the needs of our clients and of the child welfare community at large, and prevent duplication of services. Our established service linkage and referral partners include: DCFS; Children’s Law Center; Alliance for Children’s Rights; Public Counsel; Disability Rights Center; Children’s Hospital LA; Butterfly’s Haven Housing Facility for EPY (includes free child care on premises); Youth Advocate Programs; First Step Staffing (helps CASA youth find employment); Cypress College's Foster Youth Program; Pasade City College's Foster Youth Program; and more.